Jonathan Grant High — striving for excellence as a child-friendly school
Jonathan Grant High School situated on the outskirts of the de La Vega City community in Spanish Town, St Catherine has been shattering the conventional norms and customs in the Jamaican educational landscape.
Established in 1980, the school has been striving for excellence and has reaped success through its curricular, psychosocial, health and wellness, as well as its rebranding and marketing programmes. It is a shift school that caters to the needs of 2,700 students in its secondary programme, 170 students at the sixth form level and 70 students in the Career Advancement Programme (CAP).
With the establishment of its Health and Wellness Centre and the Psychosocial and Emotional Centre in 2016, as well as the Bench of HOPE (Helping Our Pupils to Exhale) in 2017, students at Jonathan Grant experience exceptional school care. “The impact is great in that at least the students know that there are persons at the school who care about their well-being. There are persons who they can talk to who they can trust. This helps them to become more focused in class and as such will perform,” said Principal Dr O'Neil Ankle.
The Bench of HOPE is the brainchild of the principal, and since inception has had a positive effect on the social and emotional learning of the students. When a child is having a challenge of whatever kind, he or she just needs to sit on the bench and a teacher will join the child to work through the challenge or alert trained personnel to address the issue.
This is a practical demonstration of the Child-Friendly Schools (CFS) model, as articulated by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), which posits that educational institutions should create learning environments that enable the holistic development of the students in their care. A key feature of this inter-sectoral framework is the recognition that quality education is not limited to excellent pedagogical designs and exceptional student outcomes, but that it takes into consideration the implementation of programmes and/or interventions that secure the health and psychosocial well-being of each learner.
In June 2019, the National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL) signed a memorandum of Understanding with UNICEF to design and implement an online programme for principals to be better equipped to lead child-friendly schools. Jonathan Grant was selected to be part of the pilot as well as to be used in the creation of content for a contextual, relevant and rich online course.
As a transformational leader, Dr Ankle contends that positive outcomes can be derived from the infusion of child-friendly approaches in schools' operations.
For him, a “child-friendly school is one where the minute you enter, you get a vision or feeling that this is where I ought to be. The entrance should attract you; the way it is painted and the murals should tell what this (school) is about.”
Continuing, he added that the school's administration appreciates the National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL) and the United Nations Children's Fund for placing high premium on the some of the school's programmes by featuring these in level two of the online course entitled 'Leading Child-Friendly Schools-The Jamaican Context.'
He advised that the aforementioned programmes concretise the school's commitment to ensuring that it produces 21st century learners, innovators and thinkers who are poised to compete in the global space and contribute positively to nation-building. The school's leadership is convinced, he says, that every child is a vital member of the Jamaican society and that every child's education is paramount in achieving the goals of our national development plan.
“As such the programmes have been put in place to reaffirm students, encourage positive attitudes and behaviours, as well as to stimulate their growth and excellent outcomes,” he explained.
Meanwhile, occupational health nurse and pioneer of the school's Health and Wellness Centre Dean-Marie White noted that wellness is paramount to the attainment of educational objectives and lifelong pursuits. “Students will be unable to focus on learning if they are mentally unwell, ill or are undergoing severe challenges that are beyond their control,” she observed. “To address this, we ensure that we work closely with the Psychosocial and Emotional Centre that handles the counselling aspects of our wellness programme which has been proven to reduce absences and encourage improved performances.”
According to White, the centre is aesthetically pleasing and is outfitted with the appropriate furniture to make them feel comfortable in working through issues with their designated counsellor.
Information provided by the National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL), an agency of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information.